“I’m telling you now, he (Lampard) will go right to the very top. Right to the very top. 'Cos he’s got everything that is needed to be a top midfield player. His attitude is first-class. He’s got strength, he can play, he can pass and he can score goals. I couldn’t be more strong in how I feel about him.”
One felt Harry Redknapp, the then West Ham United manager, was risking his reputation a bit by leaping to the defence of an 18-year-old Frank Lampard with such conviction, when questions about his place in the side were raised at a fan forum.
But a day on from the moment Lampard decided to hang up his boots, one can say Redknapp knew exactly what he was saying. There were no cliches that one typically associates when a manager speaks about his young players, there was no sitting on the fence, he spoke with an authority similar to that of a judge reading out a judgement.
As his uncle off the field, Redknapp may have been a witness to Lampard's talent like no one else. But several of Redknapp's tales about his great potential came from the training ground rather than from the backyard of his house.
In an interview with TalkSport Drivetime, the former West Ham manager divulged how he once mistook a young Lampard for an intruder at the club's training base. Sitting in his office on what he called a "horrible winter's day", the coach saw a kid doing sprints some 120 yards away. He asked the groundsman to check who was trespassing and was amazed to know it was Lampard.
“He’d been away one day with the youth team at a game and they got back late, in the early hours of the morning. Next day, he was in training at nine o’clock and all the kids were off. He was first in and wanted to train. That’s what he was like," Redknapp recalled.
John Terry in his farewell post for Lampard on Instagram echoed Redknapp's observations, however his version was of a much older Lampard, one that had won several accolades already.
"I miss you next to me in the dressing room and miss you grabbing a bag of balls after training when everyone went inside.
You stayed out working on your finishing, 20 goals a year wasn't good enough for you, every year you wanted 25, 30 goals.
I love that about you. I will miss you getting four cones and doing sprints after training - setting the example for the kids in the academy." reads an excerpt from Terry's emotional tribute to a man he called "the greatest player in Chelsea's history." It suggests nothing had changed for Lampard when he was on the training pitch.
From being taunted as 'Fat Frank' by a group of West Ham fans at the start of his career, Lampard perhaps had no right to achieve what he did thereafter. However, his incessant drive for excellence meant he ended his career being 'Super Frank'.
A model professional and a keen learner, Lampard always bordered on the ideal. From getting an A grade in Latin in school in order not let down his parents, to stepping out on the pitch to aid Chelsea's bid to reach their first ever Champions League final just days after losing his mother - these events are what truly defined him.
Deep into extra-time, with the 2008 Champions League semi-final on a knife's edge, against a Liverpool side that had knocked Chelsea out the two previous times they met in the competition, and just minutes after the Blues had a goal ruled out for offside, Lampard put the ball on the spot after his side were awarded a penalty. There were some of the best penalty takers in the world willing to fill in, but there was no fuss. Nothing, not even the grief of losing his mother was to dissuade him from what he did best.
There was no mistake, the penalty was dispatched, Chelsea were headed for Moscow, there was a brief show of emotions from Lampard as he ran away after scoring, but that was that. He was up again, back to the half-way line ensuring the job was finished off.
It hardly comes as a surprise that Jose Mourinho, a manager who boasts a plethora of records in every club and league he's managed hails him as "the greatest professional he has ever worked with."
However, more than his hard work and the professionalism it was his unique ability to do a particular job that was extremely central to the game of football that set him apart. Scoring goals. A lot of them.
The remarkable number of goal-scoring records that Lampard has to his name would surely blow your mind, even if you have seen him arrive at the right place, at the right time to bang in truck loads of goals year after year.
Lampard is the Premier League's highest-scoring midfielder with 177 goals and is fourth in the list of all-time scorers. The second midfielder in that list is Steven Gerrard who occupies the 16th place in the all-time list and has scored 57 fewer goals as compared to the former Chelsea midfielder.
He also holds the Premier League record for scoring the most number of goals from outside the penalty box (41). Quite a few of those thunderbolts from range came in the 2004-05 season where he finished runner-up to Ronaldinho for the Ballon d'Or, earning him the "toughest competitor ever faced" tag from the silky Brazilian.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 2, 2017
Lampard is also the only player in the league to have scored 10 or more goals in ten successive campaigns (2003/04 to 2012/13). So obviously, there have been many who have suffered at his hands. 39 to be precise, which is a Premier League record figure for the number of teams a single player has scored against. The 39th team incidentally happened to be Chelsea whom he scored against playing for Manchester City in the 2014/15 season. He's only behind Alan Shearer in terms of penalties scored (43-56) in the Premier League, apart from the small matter of being Chelsea's all-time leading scorer with 211 goals.
Hold your breath! There's more to Lampard's stellar numbers than his goals as he's also managed to slip into record books of the Premier League's top providers. He has 102 assists in the Premier League, a tally only bettered by Ryan Giggs and matched by Cesc Fabregas. That also makes him just the third player in the league's history to score 100 or more goals and provide 100 plus assists.
100 - Frank Lampard is one of three players to record both 100+ goals & 100+ assists in PL history (also Ryan Giggs & Wayne Rooney). Elite. pic.twitter.com/Fq8sgP1fsy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 2, 2017
Lampard's tally of 18 assists in a single season is only bettered by Thierry Henry (20 in 2002/03) and Mesut Ozil (19 in 2015/16). There might be a few more that slipped away, but these are enough to project the phenomenon that Lampard was.
The Englishman's ability to find the net never waned despite age catching up, and moving away from Stamford Bridge. His six goals for City at crucial junctures in the solitary season at the club where he played a more peripheral role, helped them secure a second-place finish. Even at New York City FC, the last professional club he played for, he became immortal in the record books by becoming their first player ever to score a hat-trick. A record of scoring once every two games in an injury-ravaged tenure at the American club tells you about his special knack of finding the back of the net.
"The guy has had a great career. I must say we looked at him when he was at West Ham as a young player and I maybe regret not having done it," Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest manager in the league's and perhaps even the sport's history once said about Lampard.
"Where else could I get 200 goals?" he quizzed. The answer to that is simple. No where else.
It would be difficult enough to match Lampard's commitment levels, ridiculous amount of hard work and professionalism on and off the pitch, but it would be simply impossible to eclipse his goal scoring exploits.
His relentless running, his precise tackling and pin-point passing could be matched by other mortals, but one can't say the same about his goal scoring, an aspect in which he seemed super-human. He somehow managed to get into positions and find the goal at will. Even those crying over his deflected goals underestimate his God-gifted ability to be at the right place at the right time. One could say he was a striker in the disguise of a midfielder, but on the other hand, he gave so much playing in the middle of the park that a striker otherwise wouldn't.
To sum it up, there will be no one be quite like Frank Lampard again. He leaves the beautiful game in a league of his own.
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Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 18:32:33 IST